Speed-walking: an unusual and fun Olympic sport

Racewalking

People always raise a brow when discovering that race-walking is not only a legitimate professional sport but also an Olympic sport because of how easy it seems, but it is actually more difficult than how it initially looks. 

Competitive race-walking traces back as far as 2500 B.C., when Egyptian hieroglyphics recorded the first account of a walking competition. Similar evidence indicates that walking competitions existed in early Greek civilizations according to Active.com. 

In 1908, race-walking made its Summer Olympics debut in London as a standalone sport, with a men’s 10-miler. (Technically it made its debut in the 1904 games as one leg of the “all-rounder,” which is like today’s decathlon.) Women didn’t compete in the race-walk until the Barcelona Games in 1992 according to Vox. 

In today’s Olympic games, race-walkers walk up to thirty-one miles to win gold. This is no easy task as each competitor breaks a seven-minute mile under multiple constraints. No kind of jogging or running is allowed.  

Race-walking differs from running in that it requires the competitor to maintain contact with the ground at all times and requires the leading leg to be straightened as the foot makes contact with the ground. It must remain straightened until the leg passes under the body,” according to USA Track and Field (USATF)

Following these rules, race-walkers can walk faster than most of us can run. All of this is while they are avoiding “flight time.” The most important rule of race-walking is that one foot must be on the ground at all times. When there are no feet in the air, that’s called “flight time,” and it’s illegal.

Under these constraints race-walking athletes have created multiple techniques on how to master the sport as a whole. These walkers practice a form of Hausleber’s Gait which includes four key steps. The first is that they twist their hips more; up to 20 degrees when normal walking only twists up to four. Secondly, they drop their hips lower; this helps the walker keep their center of gravity low. Thirdly, they walk in an extremely straight line; this helps to rotate their pelvis and get in longer steps. 

“I was able to unleash the speed today. We’ve got to make athletics sexy again,” Bosworth told NBC News after race-walking a mile in 5:31:08 in 2017.

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